Behind every great woman, there is often another great woman who has encouraged her and listened to her and advised her, rather than tried to compete with her. That’s the way that it should be, according to Shine Theory, a concept that was crystalized by journalist Ann Friedman in 2013 and embraced by women in the last presidential administration at the urging of Barack Obama himself.
As Obama’s former senior advisor Valerie Jarrett recalls its genesis in the White House, numerous women who’d been hired into the largely male administration began voicing their opinions less and less over time. “You had to really push your idea in, and [it was] totally exhausting,” Jarrett recalls in a new interview with the founder of TaskRabbit, Leah Busque.
Jarrett — who’d recruited many of the female senior officials and knew they were the “best and the brightest” — felt responsible for their happiness, so she voiced her concern. “I said to President Obama, ‘Watch and see. These women aren’t talking as much as they did at the beginning; they’re shying away.'”
In response, he proposed an idea. “He said, ‘I want them to come over and have dinner with me at my home and we’re going to talk about it,'” says Jarrett. They did, and it was a “frank and open dinner, and everyone explained to him their perspective, and he said, ‘I have your back. And when I’m not there, Valerie has your back.'”
Obama then asked the women to commit to having dinner regularly with Jarrett and to come back if they felt they needed to speak with him again. They didn’t, says Jarrett. Over the dinners, she tells Busque, “We’d built our own community.” Attendees aired grievances about the male colleagues. They discussed their children. They found “safety in numbers,” says Jarrett. Most importantly, she says, they found strength that they carried into their work.
Little wonder that Busque, whose company sold to Ikea last year and who today works as a venture capitalist, now wants to help women across a broad range of industries more easily come together to learn, to laugh, and to amplify each other’s power.
Toward that end, Busque has formed a new initiative called Shine Together with Task Rabbit’s former VP of marketing, Jamie Viggiano, that plans to organize dinners with women, feature content at its site like Busque’s sit-down with Jarrett, and to help up-and-coming businesswomen connect with needed mentors.
The organization, which quietly announced itself on Medium a few weeks ago, has already launched with a series of stories focused on notable women, including Jarrett; five-time Olympic medalist Nastia Liukin; and Ann Miura-Ko, the cofounding partner of the venture firm Floodgate.
Shine Together doesn’t merely feature women discussing their own paths, notably. It asks them to “shine a light on women who are behind the scenes but doing incredible stuff,” says Busque. Liukin, for example, talks in her interview about her mother. Miura-Ko talks about a sales executive, Stephanie Schatz, and their relationship.
For now, such video interviews will be published weekly and featured at Shine Together’s dedicated site. Over time, Viggiano — who is running the organization’s day-to-day operations — intends to work with distribution partners that are interested in making the content a part of their platforms, too.
As for the dinners, the idea is for powerful women to come and to bring a plus one — “someone who wouldn’t have access to this type of group,” Busque says. “We want to cast a wider net and give more women who deserve it [entrée] into these networking groups.”
It’s still early days, but you can learn more about the initiative here. Meanwhile, to learn more about Jarrett’s path in particular, you might check out Busque’s recent interview with her, below.